In this year’s priorities letter identifying the areas of focus for FINRA examinations during the year, FINRA notes that it will review online distribution platforms. Specifically, the letter notes that some firms are involved in the distribution of securities pursuant to Rule 506(c) and Regulation A under the Securities Act. FINRA notes that in some cases platforms may be owned by entities that are not broker-dealers but may engage broker-dealers to perform specific functions, such as custodial, escrow or back office functions. FINRA will evaluate the role of such entities. Similarly, FINRA notes that some firms claim not to be involved in selling or recommending securities despite their involvement in distributions and their receipt of transaction-based compensation. FINRA notes it will evaluate how firms operating platforms: discharge their suitability obligations, meet AML requirements, supervise communications, vet offering materials, and assess investor status. The 2019 FINRA Priorities Letter can be found here: http://www.finra.org/sites/default/files/2019_Risk_Monitoring_and_Examination_Priorities_Letter.pdf
On December 19, 2018, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (the Commission) amended Rule 251 and Rule 257 of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the Securities Act), which are part of Regulation A, in order to allow companies subject to the reporting requirements of Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the Exchange Act) to make offerings in reliance on the Regulation A exemption. The rule changes were mandated by the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act of 2018 (the Economic Growth Act).
To read more, see our Legal Update.
The Securities and Exchange Commission adopted final rules today making Regulation A available to reporting companies. The Commission was required to amend Regulation A pursuant to the mandate in the financial services regulatory legislation, the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act. Pursuant to Regulation A, an issuer may raise up to $50 million in a 12-month period. While it is not clear how this new flexibility will promote capital formation, supporters of the measure had noted that smaller reporting companies or other smaller companies that might be subject to limitations on the use of a shelf registration statement for primary offerings might find this alternative helpful.
The final amendments to Regulation A can be found here: https://www.sec.gov/rules/final/2018/33-10591.pdf.
SEC Chair Clayton testified on December 11, 2018 before the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. In his testimony, Chair Clayton reviewed the Commission’s Strategic Plan and outlined the agency’s priorities. Consistent with his remarks delivered at Columbia University, Chair Clayton reviewed some of the principal accomplishments in 2018, including proposed Regulation Best Interest, the amendments to the smaller reporting company definition, the disclosure simplification amendments, and the proposed changes to financial disclosures for guarantors. He noted that there were other proposals “on the horizon,” including:
- A proposal to amend the definition of “accelerated filer” (triggering SOX 404(b) attestation);
- Extension of the test-the-waters accommodation to non-EGCs;
- Rulemaking to expand Regulation A eligibility to public reporting companies;
- A release soliciting input on reducing compliance burdens on reporting companies with respect to quarterly reports;
- A concept release on the exempt offering framework;
- Changes to Rule 701 to address the comments received on the Commission’s concept release on the exemption;
- Improvements to the proxy process;
- Regulation of proxy advisory firms;
- Revisions of the offering rules for BDCs as required by the Small Business Credit Availability Act; and
- Revisions of the offering rules for closed-end funds as required by the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act.
On November 1, 2018, the North American Securities Administrators Association, Inc. (“NASAA”) released for public comment proposed updates to the SCOR Statement of Policy and the SCOR Form (Form U-7). According to the NASAA, the proposed updates are meant to incorporate many of the investor protections that have been put in place under state and federal crowdfunding laws in light of the evolution and availability of methods to raise capital in small offerings.
Changes to the SCOR Statement of Policy (last updated in 1996)
- Application of SCOR: The proposed updates amend the types of federal exempt offerings that can be registered at the state level under the SCOR Statement of Policy. Specifically, SCOR will no longer apply to Regulation A offerings, but will apply to the registration of intrastate offerings exempt under new federal Rule 147A. Additionally, the proposed updates increase the offering amount limitation from $1 million to $5 million, in line with the Rule 504 offering amount limitation increase.
- Issuer Eligibility: The proposed updates remove the existing requirement that the offering price for securities offered be greater than or equal to $1.00 per share or unit of interest.
- Financial Statements: The proposed updates revise the financial statement requirements to provide for tiered compilation, review, and audit requirements based on the amount of the offering. In addition to the tiered approach, the proposed updates require (1) an issuer’s CEO and CFO to certify that annual financial statements are true and complete in all material respects and (2) an issuer provide interim financial statements if annual financial statements are dated more than 120 days prior to the date of filing. The proposed updates to the financial statement requirements are based on Regulation Crowdfunding.
- Bad Actor Disqualifications: The proposed updates revise the bad actor disqualification provisions to merge aspects of federal bad actor provisions applicable to Rule 506 and Rule 504 offerings and to capture individuals materially participating in the offering or the operations of the issuer, as well as events that may include the potential for fraud. The proposed updates, however, veer from related federal provisions and do not grandfather any bad acts that occurred prior to the adoption of the SCOR Statement of Policy.
- Investment Limits: The proposed updates incorporate the individual investment limits set forth in federal Regulation Crowdfunding and require that in each sale of securities in a SCOR offering, an issuer must reasonably believe that the aggregate amount of securities sold to any investor by one or more issuers offering or selling securities under a SCOR offering during the twelve-month period preceding the date of sale, together with the securities sold by the issuer to the investor, does not exceed:
- The greater of $2,000 or 5% of the lesser of the investor’s annual income or net worth if either the investor’s annual income or net worth is less than $100,000; or
- 10% of the lesser of the investor’s annual income or net worth, not to exceed an amount sold of $100,000, if both the investor’s annual income and net worth are equal to or more than $100,000.
- Sales Reporting Requirement: The proposed updates incorporate a sales reporting requirement similar to that contained in intrastate crowdfunding laws and federal Regulation Crowdfunding, which would require an issuer to file a sales report no later than 30 days after the termination or completion of an offering or, if the offering has not been terminated or completed within 12 months, file a sales report containing the information required in Section VIIIA for the initial 12 months.
- Ongoing Reporting Obligations: The proposed updates incorporate ongoing reporting requirements based on those required under Regulation Crowdfunding. An issuer would be subject to the ongoing reporting requirements until the earlier of (1) the securities issued in connection with the SCOR offering are no longer outstanding or (2) the issuer liquidates or dissolves its business.
- Review Standards: The proposed updates include a new provision related to review standards and, unlike the proposed updates set forth above, is optional. In jurisdictions that choose to adopt this provision, offerings will be reviewed for disclosure and for compliance with applicable Statements of Policy with certain modifications incorporated from NASAA’s Coordinated Review Protocol for Regulation A offerings. Specifically, (1) the Statement of Policy Regarding Promoters’ Equity Investment will not apply and (2) the Statement of Policy Regarding Promotional Shares will apply except that one-half of any promotional shares required to be locked-in or escrowed may be released on the first and second anniversary of the date of completion of the offering, such that all shares may be released from lock-in or escrow by the second anniversary of the date of completion of the offering.
Changes to the SCOR Form (Form U-7) (last updated in 1999)
- The proposed updates to the SCOR Form are meant to streamline the form by removing duplicative or unnecessary items and to make the form more user friendly.
Comments on the proposed updates to the SCOR Statement of Policy and SCOR Form are due by December 3, 2018.
On October 23, 2018, the Heritage Foundation hosted a discussion entitled, “Problems with the JOBS Act and How They Can Be Fixed” that featured University of Kentucky College of Law Professor Rutherford B. Campbell. The discussion centered on the impact of the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (the “JOBS Act”), its benefits, its shortcomings, and recommendations on how to address those shortcomings related to Titles II, III and IV.
The JOBS Act was enacted to reduce the regulatory burden on small businesses seeking to raise capital to launch or grow their business. Campbell praised Title II’s elimination of the prohibition against general solicitation and general advertising under Rule 506(c). However, he lamented that Rule 506(c) was still limited to sales to accredited investors. Campbell discussed Title III and argued that small businesses are simply not utilizing Regulation Crowdfunding. Campbell noted the mere $49 million in funds that was raised through Regulation Crowdfunding in 2017. He asserted that the limitations and concerns regarding integration “make no sense at all.” As an alternative, Campbell recommends a two-way regulatory integration safe harbor that allows for crowdfunding and permits traditional advertising while conducting a campaign. Additionally, Campbell recommends rethinking the periodic reporting requirement under Regulation Crowdfunding. By doing so, Campbell believes more small businesses will utilize Regulation Crowdfunding. Campbell then examined Regulation A+ under Title IV, noting there are still compliance, accounting and legal hindrances. As a solution, Campbell proposes federal preemption for Tier 1 offerings. Overall, Campbell advocates for the implementation of these recommendations to enhance the current regulatory framework for small business capital formation.
At the Practising Law Institute’s Annual Institute on Securities Regulation, a number of updates were provided by the Staff regarding ongoing initiatives within the Office of Small Business. The Staff reviewed the recently adopted amendments to the definition of “smaller reporting company” (SRC) and directed practitioners to its Small Entity Compliance Guide. The Staff also noted that a number of Compliance & Disclosure Interpretations were recently updated to address changes brought about by the SRC amendments. The C&DIs also were recently reorganized and are now grouped by category, making these much easier to navigate. Below, we highlight a few of the C&DIs relating to SRC status:
Question: An issuer files its 2019 Form 10-K using the disclosure permitted for smaller reporting companies under Regulation S-K. The cover page of the Form 10-K indicates that the issuer will no longer qualify to use the smaller reporting company disclosure for 2020 because its public float exceeded $250 million at the end of its second fiscal quarter in 2019. The issuer proposes to rely on General Instruction G(3) to incorporate by reference executive compensation and other disclosure required by Part III of Form 10-K into the 2019 Form 10-K from its definitive proxy statement to be filed not later than 120 days after its 2019 fiscal year end. May the issuer use smaller reporting company disclosure in this proxy statement, even though it does not qualify to use smaller reporting company disclosure for 2020?
Answer: Yes, because the issuer could have used the smaller reporting company disclosure for Part III of its 2019 Form 10-K if it had not used General Instruction G(3) to incorporate that information by reference from the definitive proxy statement. [November 7, 2018]
Question: Could a company with a fiscal year ended December 31, 2018 be both a “smaller reporting company,” as defined in Item 10(f), and an “accelerated filer,” as defined in Rule 12b-2 under the Exchange Act, for filings due in 2019, if it was an accelerated filer with respect to filings due in 2018 and had a public float of $80 million on the last business day of its second fiscal quarter of 2018?
Answer: Yes. A company must look to the definitions of “smaller reporting company” and “accelerated filer” to determine if it qualifies as a smaller reporting company and non-accelerated filer for each year. This company will qualify as a smaller reporting company for filings due in 2019 because on the last business day of its second fiscal quarter of 2018 it had a public float below $250 million. However, because the company was an accelerated filer with respect to filings due in 2018, it is required to have less than $50 million in public float on the last business day of its second fiscal quarter in 2018 to exit accelerated filer status for filings due in 2019, as provided in paragraph (3)(ii) of the definition of “accelerated filer” in Rule 12b-2. This company had a public float of $80 million on the last business day of its second fiscal quarter of 2018, and therefore is unable to transition to non-accelerated filer status. As this example illustrates, a company can be both an accelerated filer and a smaller reporting company at the same time. Such a company may use the scaled disclosure rules for smaller reporting companies in its annual report on Form 10-K, but the report is due 75 days after the end of its fiscal year and must include the Sarbanes-Oxley Section 404 auditor attestation report described in Item 308(b) of Regulation S-K. [November 7, 2018]
Question: Will a company that does not qualify as a smaller reporting company for filings due in a particular year be able to qualify as a smaller reporting company if its public float or annual revenues later decrease?
Answer: Once a reporting company determines that it does not qualify as a smaller reporting company, it will remain unqualified unless when making a subsequent annual determination either:
- It determines that its public float is less than $200 million; or
- It determines that:
- for any threshold that it previously exceeded, it is below the subsequent annual determination threshold (public float of less than $560 million and annual revenues of less than $80 million); and
- for any threshold that it previously met, it remains below the initial determination threshold (public float of less than $700 million or no public float and annual revenues of less than $100 million). See Amendments to the Smaller Reporting Company Definition – Compliance Guide for more information.
Example: A company has a December 31 fiscal year end. Its public float as of June 28, 2019 was $710 million and its annual revenues for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2018 were $90 million. It therefore does not qualify as a smaller reporting company. At the next determination date, June 30, 2020, it will remain unqualified unless it determines that its public float as of June 30, 2020 was less than $560 million and its annual revenues for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2019 remained less than $100 million. [November 7, 2018]
The Staff also provided some insights regarding reliance on exempt offering alternatives. For the twelve months ended June 30, 2018, approximately $1.2 trillion was raised in Rule 506 offerings, of which nearly 97% was raised in reliance on Rule 506(b) offerings. Most of this was attributable to offerings by funds, although operating company offerings accounted for approximately $175 billion. The Staff has noted a slow but steady increase in the number of Rule 506(c) transactions. Regulation A offering activity also has been robust. For the three years from effectiveness of the amendments to Regulation A through September 30, 2018, there were 257 offerings qualified and nearly $1.3 billion raised in Regulation A offerings. Real estate and REIT offerings account for the largest percentage of these transactions. The Staff noted it is currently working on recommendations in order to implement the rulemaking mandate to make Regulation A available to reporting companies. Finally, the Staff also is working on a review of exempt offering alternatives that would, among other things, seek to harmonize the requirements for various offering exemptions.
Speaking at a session at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting, a representative of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Corporation Finance (Michael Seaman) provided guidance for attendees regarding areas of focus in the coming months. After reviewing some of the Commission’s recent rulemaking initiatives, including the Concept Release regarding Rule 701 and Form S-8, the recent changes to Regulation S-K to address outdated, duplicative and other similar rules, and the proposed amendments to the disclosures required by Regulation S-X Rule 3-10 and Rule 3-16, Mr. Seaman commented on ongoing and upcoming priorities. He noted that the staff is working on proposed rules that would address the statutory change that permits Exchange Act-reporting companies to undertake Regulation A offerings. There appears to be significant interest on the part of smaller public companies in relying on the exemption. Mr. Seaman cautioned that the exemption is not available to such companies until the Commission adopts final rules. He noted that the staff continues its work on proposed changes to Industry Guide 3 for financial services companies. Guide 3 requirements may be simplified in light of the disclosures required of regulated financial institutions as a result of Basel III and other standards, as well as disclosures otherwise already contained in financial statements and the accompanying notes. Consistent with remarks made by other Commission representatives, Mr. Seaman noted that the staff also is working on a concept release related to private offering exemptions intended to harmonize conditions for such exemptions. When asked whether there would be additional rulemaking in furtherance of the Commission’s disclosure-effectiveness initiative, Mr. Seaman noted that the staff continues to review other aspects of the Regulation S-K requirements, including those on which comment was sought in the Concept Release on Business and Financial Disclosure required by Regulation S-K.
As far as areas of staff comment, Mr. Seaman noted that the staff was reviewing issuer disclosure related to cyber breaches and cybersecurity and commenting on risks that were generic and did not address issuer-specific facts and circumstances, as well as on disclosures related to incidents of breaches. He also noted that the staff was reviewing dispute-resolution provisions in governing documents that may have the effect of limiting investors’ rights, such as provisions requiring mandatory arbitration, waiver of jury trial provisions, provisions related to class-action waivers, and provisions requiring a minimum ownership threshold in order to bring certain claims. In this regard, the staff was commenting on issuer disclosures related to the inclusion of such provisions in the governing documents with a focus on ensuring that such provisions are clearly explained and investors understand the risks associated with such provisions, including the limitations on remedies, as well as ensuring that issuers are addressing in their disclosures whether such provisions are enforceable and comply with the securities laws.
Mr. Seaman also mentioned a new initiative, led by the Chief Counsel’s office, with the support and involvement of other groups, to review all of the Compliance & Disclosure Interpretations for any required updates, as well as to eliminate any C&DIs that may no longer be relevant or applicable. He encouraged practitioners to provide their views regarding any C&DIs that may be confusing or problematic, as well as any areas or topics that may be appropriate to address in new C&DIs.
Neal Newman assesses the success of Regulation A in a paper titled, “Regulation A+: New and Improved after the JOBS Act or a Failed Revival?” The author reviews the 267 Regulation A filings made between August 13, 2012 and May 24, 2016 and samples a subset of 48 filings from this period. Of the sample, 19 were Tier 1 filings (39.6 percent) and 29 were Tier 2 filings (60.4 percent). For the Tier 1 filings in the sample set, the average minimum offering amount was $829,861 and the average maximum amount was $17,677,397. Average total assets over the sample were $6,215,061. Based on the Tier 1 offerings in the sample, the author concludes that very few of the filers sought to raise the maximum $20 million permitted under Tier 1 and few of the Tier 1 issuers were of a size to need $20 million in capital. It took, on average, 375 days to get qualified. By contrast, for the Tier 2 offerings in the sample set, the average maximum was just over $23 million. On average, these Tier 2 offerings took 120 days to be qualified. Based on the author’s assessment, he notes that the only persuasive rationale for relying on Regulation A rather than on Regulation D would be the ability to sell securities to non-accredited investors. The author supplemented his quantitative analysis with interviews of issuers that undertook Regulation A offerings. Contrary to the author’s expectations, the companies that undertook Regulation A offerings were pleased with their financing approach despite the ongoing reporting requirements and the time (and expense) associated with the Regulation A offerings. The author concludes with a cautionary example, citing an early Regulation A issuer that since has failed to achieve profitability.
July 19 – 20, 2018
PLI New York Center
1177 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036
This program will provide an overview and discussion of the basic aspects of the U.S. federal securities laws by leading in-house and law firm practitioners as well as SEC staff. Emphasis will be placed on the interplay among the Securities Act of 1933, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Dodd-Frank Act, the JOBS Act, the securities related provisions of the FAST Act, related SEC regulations and significant legislative and regulatory changes and proposals.
Partner Anna Pinedo will lead a session titled “Securities Act Exemptions” on Day One of the program. Topics will include:
- Exempt securities versus exempt transactions;
- Private placements, including offerings under Rules 504 and 506 of Regulation D;
- Regulation A+ offerings;
- “Intrastate” offerings, including new Rule 147A;
- Employee equity awards;
- Rule 144A offerings;
- Regulation S offerings to “non-U.S. persons”; and
- Resales of restricted and controlled securities: Rule 144, Section 4(a)(7) and 4(a)(1½).
PLI will provide CLE credit.
For more information, or to register, please visit the event website.